Many times, we hear horror stories of converts telling their families they are Muslim. Experiences range from mild disapproval to disowning, and even torture at the hands of family members.
In my many interviews with converts about their experience with their families, I have found that with time comes acceptance. Even the worst treatment from family members always turns around. This is especially true for those converts who are patient and show excellent manners.
But every now and then, there are people who announce that they are Muslim, and it is without event. It’s almost natural. That was the case with Abigail Walters.
Every time I see the beautiful, strong woman my friend Abigail has become, she reminds me of Allah (SWT). She reminds me that love is part of our fitra. That it is powerful tool when we love the right way and the right things.
And I wonder if this is the reason people accept Abigail as she is. I wonder if it is Abigail’s immense capacity to love and her unwavering love for God that makes people love and accept her.
Understanding Islam and Muslims
Even Abigail’s journey to Islam was natural. Abigail met and married an Indonesian Muslim man who introduced her to Islam. She says:
“What ultimately led me to choose Islam was coming to an understanding through conversation with my husband about Islam. Knowing and believing that there is only One God.”
After taking the shahadah, Abigail recalls telling her mother over the phone that she had become Muslim. Her mother said:
“I’m shocked because you were so scared of Muslims.”
Abigail was a child on September 11, 2001. She had never heard of a religion called Islam before this day nor had she ever met a Muslim.
On one occasion Abigail confided in me that once, long before she converted, she saw a Muslim man at a gas station and was terrified. She says:
“I never heard of a man named Muhammad. No one I knew had ever heard of a man named Muhammad. How I was guided to Islam is a miracle.”
A Better Her
Abigail’s younger sister, Angelina, a bright and beautiful young woman, recalls Abigail before and after her conversion to Islam. Angelina says:
“I was only seven, but I don’t think Abby became a different person. She has always been the same. Her personality has never changed.”
When I asked Angelina about how her friends see Abigail, a Muslim woman who wears hijab in the American South, she said: “My friends love Abby. They have never thought she was weird or said anything bad about her.”
Abigail agreed with her sister’s assessment about her not having changed after Islam only to add that before Islam she never thought of her own faults.
But now that Abigail is Muslim, she simply tries to be a better version of herself. She says:
“I look at everything differently now. I am the same, but the way I look at the world is different. They way I think of my self is different.”
Reactions of the Family
When I asked Abigail if her relationship with her family had changed at all, Abigail said:
“Everyone seems to accept me as a Muslim. And all those relationships are the same. But my relationship with my mom has gotten better. I make an effort to admit when I am wrong. I never did that before Islam. And I do try to see my own faults. This, I think, brought us closer together.”
Abigail says that she didn’t start wearing hijab right after she took the shahadah, but she warmed up to the idea and eventually started wearing it. After this, Abigail felt as if people in her life started taking her decision to be Muslim more seriously.
“I don’t think anyone thought twice about me being Muslim until I started wearing hijab. Then some of my family members started asking me questions.
Mostly they wanted to know why I would do that [wear hijab]. I think those kinds of questions come from them being told that hijab means oppression. But they know me, and they know I am not oppressed.”
When I asked Abigail what her family knew about Islam before she converted, she said:
“No one knew anything about Islam. They had never heard about Muhammad (PBUH) or who he was.”
Abigail’s family has not only accepted her as a Muslim, today, a few family members have said the shahadah.
At the end of my interview with Abigail, she said she recently found out that, on her father’s side of the family, she has an aunt who came to Islam long before Abigail converted.
Abigail thinks that it was her aunt who made dua for her to be granted hidayah (guidance). She says she can’t think of any other reason why she, a girl afraid of Muslims who didn’t know anything about Islam, would be guided.